Cathy Nesbitt wants every house and apartment to be equipped with a squirm - or a big pile of worms.
Her job is to convince people that adding one pound of lively, food-munching red wiggler worms to their household makes perfect sense.
Nesbitt is a true believer in the value of composting and the owner of Cathy's Crawly Composters, which ships worms and worm composting kits across North America. If you live in the GTA, don't be surprised if she personally delivers and demonstrates her worms' potential.
Her enthusiasm is inspiring and infectious.
"My goal is to raise awareness about how simple composting is," she says. "Conservation is my mission and the worms are my vehicle."
The 2002 garbage strike in Toronto changed her life. At the time, Nesbitt, a psychology graduate, was working at a group home that didn't compost, despite having lots of land to do so. When she asked why, she was told that because they kept cows, they didn't need extra fertilizer. This helped Nesbitt realize just how important it was to manage the waste that we generate.
Even though she'd tried and failed at worm composting once before, Nesbitt did more research. One thing she learned was that worms reduce organic waste by about 80 per cent.
"I became enamoured with the worms,' she says. "I thought, 'These critters are amazing.'
"I'm on such a mission because of our garbage crisis. I'm shocked that we export our garbage to the States."
Nesbitt settled on one pound of worms in her composting kits because that quantity of red wigglers and their offspring can consume and convert one tonne of waste each year - the amount of organic waste an average Canadian family produces annually. The worms, from the same family as the common earthworm, produce black castings, a nitrogen-rich natural fertilizer.
"Every house needs a pound of worms and then we won't have a garbage issue:' she says.
- A group of worms is called a squirm.
- Worms have five hearts.
- They have no eyes or ears, but are sensitive to light and prefer darkness.
- A worm can eat half its body weight each day. They eat decomposing matter, thus staving off nauseous odours.
- Worms live up to 10 years.
- They're hermaphrodites and produce cocoons that each hold up to 20 eggs.
- Worms produce a nitrogen rich natural fertilizer great for plants and gardens.
The tougher obstacle was convincing people not to be frightened of them.
"Now I think that's why I got my psych degree, so I could figure out why people are afraid:' she says with a laugh. "I think people are afraid of worms due to their fear of death, because the worms get you in the end."
Except kids, Nesbitt says. She started doing school workshops and estimates that more than 5,000 people have seen her presentation in the last three years.
"The kids, they so get it - especially elementary kids. Having worms in a classroom is an incredible educational tool. Some teachers have reported that some of the children will eat better, because they can't feed the worms chips or cookies; if they want to feed them, they have to eat fruit and vegetables."
She speaks to horticultural clubs and she has addressed provincial forums on waste. Her website attracts requests from around the world.
"I know they're slimy and that people are creeped out, but when you step back and learn about what they can do, it's like they've been waiting a million years to serve their purpose - to eat our garbage."
Municipalities continually struggle with the garbage dilemma. The green bin program to recycle organic waste has been launched across Toronto, but Nesbitt says trucks still have to go to every house and the program doesn't include apartments or condos.
Nesbitt, who does have many apartment-dwelling customers, may see that area of her business grow fastest. Toronto's public works department committee is considering ways of forcing apartments to raise their recycling participation levels. One option being studied is closing garbage chutes.
"People feel like it's best to just put it in a bag and let a truck take it somewhere," she says.
But we can't afford the money to ship our garbage, she says. "And the cost to the environment, we can't put a price on that.'
For more information, visit www.cathyscomposters.com.
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